Quarterback, staff changes bring needed spark for Longhorns

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Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard looks for a receiver in Texas' game against Rice on Saturday. Heard finished his first career start 4-of-7 with 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ offense awoke from a long slump in its 42-28 win over Rice, and it was no accident. With a new quarterback and play-caller at the helm, the Longhorns’ offense is making strides.

Head coach Charlie Strong made moves quickly after Texas’ 38-3 defeat at Notre Dame. To start the week, he stripped assistant head coach of offense Shawn Watson of his play-calling duties and gave receivers coach Jay Norvell that responsibility. He put the finishing touches on the revamped offense by giving redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard the start over junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.

After just one game, those changes have already brought considerable progress.

“Our players were embarrassed, our coaches were embarrassed about how we played last week and we wanted to respond,” Norvell said. “We have a young football team and we wanted to start off playing with great effort and playing physical, doing the things we know how do to and building from there and that’s we tried to do.”

Rice had the ball for the majority of the game, but Texas made its possessions count with four touchdowns on 10 drives. The Longhorns also saw an increase in offensive production, accumulating 7.3 yards per play, compared to last week’s 3.1 yards per play.

Heard immediately stole the show as he ignited the Longhorns’ offense with a 35-yard run and a 32-yard touchdown pass on the team’s opening drive. He went on to complete four of seven attempts for 120 yards and two touchdowns while also leading the team with 96 yards rushing. A two-time state champion at Denton Guyer, Heard showed off his dual-threat ability in the Longhorns’ spread offense.

“But just that spark and you watch him, and when he took off you knew something exciting was going to happen,” Strong said. “And that’s what you like about him. Once he gets outside the defense, he can make guys miss in the open field and he’s fast enough to outrun people.”

While Heard’s play elevates the Longhorns, his intangibles are his key to driving the offense. Strong praised Heard’s energy and passion as a leader, and Heard’s confidence shows when he talks about his lofty goals.

“I’m just trying to amp my game up and understand football more, understand defense more at the college level and maybe win two [championships] in college,” Heard said.

Heard and Norvell both proved to be upgrades in their new roles; however, the offense has its work cut out for it with matchups against California, Oklahoma State and No. 3 TCU looming in the next three weeks. In the midst of a performance filled with big plays, the Longhorns still showed some growing pains going three-and-out on three occasions.

While the Longhorns can  still improve, their performance against Rice was a step in the right direction.

Now, they will feed off of it as they prepare for California.

“It felt really good to see that our offense can produce touchdowns,” freshman receiver John Burt said. “So going forward we can look at this game and build off of everything we have done so far.”